How Fallon Got United’s Blessing

Before awarding its $100 million consolidated global account to Fallon last week, United Airlines executives visited Publicis in Asia to determine for themselves if Fallon could handle the business overseas.

Publicis’ “weakness was Japan, and they’re working on that as we speak,” said John Kiker, United vp of advertising and communications. He said Minneapolis-based Fal lon, which will use the resources of parent Publicis until its international offices are up and running, will need to staff up in Hong Kong, Tokyo and South America, as well as at its existing London and U.S. offices.

Fallon stepped up its expansion plans after winning the account from Young & Rubicam. United did not make special visits to Y&R’s overseas offices, because it was familiar with their setup, Kiker said.

Before June, Fallon intends to open outposts in São Paulo, Brazil, and Singapore that will be dedi cated to United. The offices will be staffed by current Fallon employees and local talent and eventually are expected to become full-service shops, said Rob White, president of Fallon in Minneapolis.

The agency plans no more than a dozen offices overseas, a relatively small number of strategic outposts that White described as “a new kind of global network. … [It’s] more about people than about dots on the globe,” he said.

Calvin Soh, a former writer for Saatchi & Saatchi in Singapore whom Fallon hired last summer, will help with the Asian expansion. He will likely be a partner at one of Fallon’s Asian offices, shop officials said. Minneapolis general man ager Eric Block and account service group director Tricia Davidson, who will head up the account, were in London last week recruiting.

Zenith Media, which is 50 percent owned by Publicis, will handle most media buying, except for U.S. print buying, which will be handled by Fallon. Using Zenith avoids a conflict with Publicis’ Optimedia, which handles media for British Air.

During the review, Fallon and Y&R completed a 50-part questionnaire, covering issues from domestic and international capabilities to how United’s proposed merger with USAir could be handled.

Creative was not part of the review. United is now focusing on the proposed merger; when that is out of the way, Fallon’s task will be to restore United’s lost luster, Kiker said.

Fallon has already begun work under the assumption that the USAir deal will be approved in April.

“They’re very good at pushing us, and we have been a company that doesn’t get pushed enough,” Kiker said of Fallon. “They push, and they push, and they push. Sometimes we have a meeting of the minds, and sometimes we don’t.”

Case in point: Fallon’s first work for the airline, tagged, “Rising,” which failed to live up to its promise of better service, was scrapped in 1999.

Last year, Fallon broke a successor campaign that used United’s name as its tagline. However, after a troubled summer for United, the agency’s work for the second half of the year focused on restoring goodwill among disenfranchised passengers.